“Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these? ‘For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10)
There is a valid place for the discipline of history. It is wisdom to learn from the past. The whole of the Old Testament calls for a reciting of God’s mighty deeds to a new generation. The psalmist rightly cried, “O God, we have heard with our ears, our fathers have told us, what deeds you performed in their days, in the days of old” (Psalm 44:1) and longs for God to so move in the present generation.
Nostalgia, however, is a different matter and is neither wise nor helpful. Mark Buchannan insightfully writes, “. . . the past was never as clean and bright as we remember it . . . He who waxes nostalgic will usually, in time, turn bitter about how the past won’t return to him . . . the church of our summertime, whether we’re still in it or long ago moved on, seems holier and truer than wherever we are now” (Spiritual Rhythm, pp.119, 120).
He is correct. History, like statistics, will tell you anything you want it to say, if you torture it enough. Sometimes we’re guilty of torturing the past until it speaks to our vanity, praises us, and describes to us an air-brushed version of events.
We need the ability to look back with gratitude, instead of with wistfulness over why things aren’t the same anymore and instead of with anger at those who seem to stand in the way of the old times returning. Gratitude recognizes God’s hand in the good. Wistfulness grieves a loss in a way that never allows us to move on. Anger dishonors the good we’ve experienced and blocks any chance of further good in the present.
The ability to look back with gratitude and yet still look around in thankfulness is a Spirit-enabled grace. For this we need God’s present enabling.
Lord, thank you for so many good memories of past graces. But enable me, please, to live fully in the present that I might taste further and more fully of your goodness. Amen.
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